The word “September” comes from the Latin word, septem, meaning seven. I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 1st – 7th September 2013, and what more appropriate theme for the first week of the seventh month could there be, but “seven”?
“Wait, what?” I hear you cry. “September is the ninth month – can’t you count? Today is the first of September; don’t we write 9/1/2013?” Unless we’re somewhere outside the US, where they have it all backwards, and insist on writing it 1/9/2013…
Historically, September was the seventh of ten months according to the oldest known Roman calendar. March, called Martius for the Roman god of war, was the first month – the month of rebirth and renewal that coincided with the start of spring. And so it was, until around 153 BC. Though we are most familiar with Mars as the god of war, he was also the guardian of agriculture, so this honor makes sense. With roots in ancient Zorastrianism, the Persian new year, Nowruz, begins at the exact moment of the vernal equinox. The Great Sphinx, in Egypt, was constructed so that it points towards the rising sun on the day of the vernal equinox. For Christians, the vernal equinox signals the coming of Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. And so, it makes sense that March – not January – would be the first month, and September the seventh.
On the other hand, I look at the names of the other months, named for a pantheon of gods and goddesses, and cannot help but wonder if the Romans simply ran out of imagination when they got to the second half of their ten-month calendar, just as they seemed to do with their children. Quintus, Sextus… next time you contemplate your own name, thank your parents for not naming you “Five” or “Six” or “Seven.”